Looking back on the previous weekend including my own death march at the TP100 and pacing at the MK Marathon and what sticks in my head is how much more I enjoyed the marathon. Not just bits. The whole bloody thing. It was probably the longest period of sustained fun I’ve had since going to Disney World. And with less queuing. And nobody charged me $6 for a tepid cola. Although it was that hot I probably would have paid double.
Looking at the various race photos I’m beaming away despite running in an oven. I’m having a whale of a time. Everyone around me looks miserable as sin, like they’ve been asked by the boss to pull a weekend shift and missed a night of debauchery at the Playboy mansion. Why? It’s not just because I’m running within myself. Although that helped, the 100 mile warm up the day before and dodgy calf means it wasn’t the effort-free glide it might have been. In truth there is no such thing as an easy marathon. 26.2 miles is a long way.
I’m happy because I’ve binned the bullshit and just enjoying the run. Before during and after the race I’ve done whatever made it enjoyable. It was an amazing change. Breakfast was cold pizza, some sausage rolls and I stood on the start line eating some crisps as I fancied some crisps. On route I fancied a beer so I had one. Afterwards I had cake and more beer. At no point did I consume or undertake something I didn’t want to. I am having a great time.
As evidenced by the photos, many of those around me aren’t having a great time. Or even a good time. It’s because we’re not meant to. Advice columns, magazines, blogs and motivational videos strip the joy from what should be the simplest form of exercise, and one that for all but 99.9% of people on the start line is meant to be a hobby, one we’ve paid to undertake by choice. It’s in the same bucket as going to the cinema or reading the newspaper. We do those things because they are enjoyable. Not so with running.
We’re told running shouldn’t be fun. Not only that, the misery should start before and end well after the exercise. Like a slice of anguish sandwiched between discomfort and suffering.
Welcome to the grind. Welcome to getting up two hours before your run to eat some prescribed protein breakfast that tastes the same going down as coming back up. Welcome to long runs in the cold when your legs scream because you’re too manly to wear leggings. Welcome to running the same bloody route from your house for the 87th time as it’s the only flat circuit available and your plan says you must run exactly 8.75 miles at 8min30s pace or else the entire week is ruined and your training is for nothing. Welcome to returning from a run and drinking a smoothie the exact taste, consistency and flavour as the contents of an old man’s hanky. Welcome to abstaining from beer, from sex, from pizza and late nights because any one of these would derail your training to cover an arbitrary distance in a self-imposed arbitrary time that is somehow vital for self-worth. The sum total of all your achievements in life to date are as nothing compared to your marathon time. Imagine if you had a glass of wine the night before a big race and finished the marathon in 4h15 rather than 4h14. Literally world-ending. It’s doubtful if you’d still have a job come Monday morning.
It seems running must be hard or is it isn’t worth it. Every facet of it must be arduous. The more horrendous the better. Don’t ever look like you enjoy it. If you suspect you might have accidentally had fun on a run go sign up to an obstacle course race. Wade through ice cold water, contract a lung infection from a cow shit infested stream crossing and get electrocuted by a sadistic failed PE teacher. Now you’re tough. Now it’s working. No smiling now or you have to do another lap.
Bollocks. Every other hobby is about fun. If watching the new blockbuster film required months of 6am screenings of French silent movies you’d give it a miss. Nobody listens to the angry frog on repeat for hours to better make them appreciate their favourite band on tour. I’ve yet to meet a dabbler in home cooking who’d spend four hours every Sunday chopping veg just to get the perfect peeling technique to shave 15 seconds off the Christmas dinner preparation or chug a gag-inducing liquidised bag of Haribo every 20 minutes to keep their energy up for the carving. No they’re having a glass of wine, laughing with the kids and enjoying the process as much as the end result.
Running should be the same. Yes there will be times when it is tough and where effort needs to be applied to improve but remember why you’re there in the first place. It’s a hobby. It’s ultimately pointless. Completely bloody pointless. Several hours after you leave you’re back to where you started only now you have a blister and smell like roadkill. If it’s not enjoyable it won’t stick and you’ll go back to binge eating twiglets on the sofa watching Celebrity Dancing Factor On Ice Jump Island or some such mind-numbing tedium.
I ran with a lot of first time marathoners at MK. Many recounted the horrors of training and of the race day ritual itself. Like almost all first timers (including me) they assumed it was all some rite of passage that must be undergone in order to earn the medal. With the average marathon training programme being 16 weeks and with a minimum of 6 hours per week they’ve likely spend 100 hours in abject misery with probably the same amount before and after in preparation and recovery torment, trussed up in recovery compression tights and bashing themselves with foam rollers based on a Youtube video of some untrained hunk they wish to be. All of this so they can wake in the dark and shovel ‘fuel’ down their necks to go spend a further five hours in a state ranging from discomfort to agony. What an awesome hobby. Sign me up today.
Stop stripping out the fun.
Want to go to the pub with your mates? Go. Get so drunk you wake up in a bush, happy but disorientated.
Pre-race meal says pasta but you fancying eating half a cow in a decent restaurant with the wife? Eat it. Add some blue cheese sauce.
Want to run in the woods with clubmates and dogs, laughing like kids and stopping for ice cream at the end? Have a 99 and enjoy it.
Training plan says to do 400 metre reps until you revisit your breakfast but you’d rather jog around the lake with Bob and chat shit about your boss? Dish away. Your boss probably is an arse. Statistically most are.
Want a greasy fry up on race day morning? Dig in. That cold porridge can be flung out on the lawn for the neighbours cat to eat and bring back up.
Rather run like the Devil himself is chasing you for 5 miles than slog 10 miles at mind-numbing tedium? Go do it.
Think a Mars bar might be preferable as a running snack compared to an energy ball dangerously reminiscent of something you saw a goat deposit on the floor at the petting zoo? Have one. Have the whole family pack.
Prefer a beer at mile 18 rather than a sugary diabetes drink? Then I hope you have enough to share.
Seriously the marathon will hurt like hell. Training will make it hurt less but training is running. It is not subjecting yourself to torture even Guantanamo Bay guards would flinch at in some form of masochistic pre and post race ritual of self denial, with the intervening miles a dangerous stomach based Buckaroo as you pummel gel after gel into your engorged gut wondering which end they’ll finally make a high velocity exit from.
Run fast. Run slow. But run happy. At least once.